“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
2 Corinthians 4:5-7
Editor’s Note: Bobbie Wolgemuth, dear friend and wise mentor to many women, stepped into heaven on October 28, 2014, after a two-and-a-half year journey through cancer. Bobbie was a remarkable women – gracious, deep, and absolutely brimming with the joy of the Lord. The following article is a collection of her spoken and written reflections on life, finding joy in suffering, and her conquering Savior. May her insight inspire you to proclaim Jesus as Lord in any and every circumstance.
On Valentine’s Day 2012, when most lovers celebrated with boxes of sweets and bouquets of flowers, my husband of forty-two years and I were handed a gift we neither asked for nor expected.
Although it was mercifully wrapped in the love of God, this gift was presented to us from the voice of our hospital’s oncologist. The doctor’s words were straightforward, yet somehow gentle and kind. “Bobbie has Stage IV ovarian cancer.”
Thus began an amazing journey and a path of deepening love for one another and a Master’s course in trusting God.
When you get a Stage IV cancer diagnosis, you pretty quickly think, “Okay, this is the end of the earthly life.” But, when you’ve spent years with a foot in eternity and have an eternal perspective, it wasn’t as jarring as it could have been. Cancer is a temporal issue, not an eternal issue.
I did quickly realize that my theology was way more important than any diagnosis. What I learn in my Bible is the truth. So, if my doctor says, “You only have this long to live,” she doesn’t know for sure. Only God knows that. He planned the day of my birth and the day of my death. And He wants me to live the days in-between fully.
Still, this was unsettling news, and Robert and I ran to the place we’ve been many times before. We settled our swirling minds by fixing our gaze on Jesus as we recounted the past faithfulness of God. We remembered each decade of His provision. In our twenties, we had a baby with health challenges. In our thirties, we lost our business and entire net worth. In our forties, we started a new business and struggled to make payroll. In our fifties, we attended funerals of friends and unexpectedly moved to Florida.
We remembered how in each decade and in numerous crises, we were gently sustained by the grace offered us in God’s Word and from His people. Looking back and thanking God for His goodness sealed our confidence that He is sovereign and totally in control.
Whatever stage of life we are in, each of us will probably face something that is totally beyond us, and it’s purpose is to make us fall on our face in front of Jesus. We ask Him, “Could you give me wisdom? Could you give me insight? Could you give me direction? Today, Lord Jesus, give me your strength; give me the mind of Jesus so I can think your thoughts.”
Even though we may enter a season of life that is unexpected, God never leaves us unprepared. He gives us His presence, and He gives us His Word.
God’s Word, spiritual songs, and Christian creeds have been our constant companions. Robert and I do not want to complain or compare our situation with other people, so we station the guard at the door of our minds every moment of the day. We read Scripture aloud every morning, allowing our voices and our ears to speak and hear Scripture. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
We need to not only read God’s Word, but also memorize it – put it in our minds. You don’t know what you're going to need today, so you pack your lunch before you’re hungry! What you memorize now might be what sustains you in thirty years. When I was twenty-eight, my bible study teacher challenged me to memorize Psalm 91. It starts out, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (AKJV) Do you think that psalm is helping me now when I’m 64 with cancer? What we do today is preparing us for the future. The Lord does allow us to have tests in life, but they are open Book tests!
Early after my diagnosis, I also memorized and clung often to Question One from the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” Part of it goes like this: my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who, with His precious blood has fully paid for all my sins, delivered me from all the power of the devil, and preserves me so that, without the will of my Heavenly Father, not one hair can fall from my head.
We have to renew our minds every day. We have to learn to equate God’s truth with our nourishment and sustenance.
It was after two chemo treatments and the morning of my 42nd anniversary when I wrote in my journal about the experience of losing my hair in my journal:
“On Friday my hair began to fall out and it has been a difficult and revealing experience for me. Even though I knew it was coming and I tried to brace myself for it, there is a certain sinking reality and sadness over the loss of my identity. From the time the girls were small, I have enjoyed styling my longish hair and they used to call it my "Tea Party Hat" when I'd wear it up in a bun. To stand at my sink and watch it come out in handfuls as I brushed was overwhelming.”
Because my salvation is secure, I can “laugh” at the future. Now, it’s not a “ha, ha, ha” kind of laugh, but Jesus did say, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer…” (John 16:33 NKJV) I looked up good cheer and it means to “take heart.” When you take heart, that means you are encouraged. What you’re really doing is taking the heart of Jesus, encouraging your own heart. Another verse says “do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16). If we just focus on our circumstances, we can quickly lose heart.
But, if I’m resting in His plan, I can take heart and not lose heart. There is nothing where God will not stand beside you and help you, but it takes your Bible. And, maybe a hymnbook...
One verse that has sustained me is 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Who is perfect love? Jesus. There’s only One to cast out the fear. I’m keeping my eyes totally focused on God in this.
The lyrics of the songs I have memorized are sermons I sing to myself daily, a way to turn my gaze to Jesus. I do a new hymn yearly, all verses. So, at night when I wake up and the fear is about to take over, instead of being fearful, I use music to “take every thought captive.” I have so many hymns in my mind that there’s hardly any room for fear.
The second verse of How Firm a Foundation says (singing):
Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
Now, that is right from Isaiah! It’s God’s Word set to music. The whole middle of your Bible – the Psalms – is a hymnbook, you know.
The chorus of Like a River Glorious goes like this (singing):
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed.
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
I stay my heart upon Jehovah with a song. That’s my little secret.
My friend Joni and I sing hymns together. We call ourselves Hymn Lady 1 and Hymn Lady 2. She lives her life in a wheelchair because she’s a quadriplegic. I called her one day and said, “Joni, are you sitting down? I’ve found something!” And she said, “I’m sitting down. What did you find?”
I said, “In Philippians 1:29, it says ‘it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ... to suffer.’ Granted? That means it’s a gift!” And she said, “I could have told you that!”
James 1:2-4 tells us that our suffering produces perseverance so we can be fully complete. Often in our suffering, though, we have this child within that says, “I don’t want to grow up! I don’t want this! I don’t want to be mature.”
We don’t know what treasures God has for us in our suffering. If God is doing something, why not lean into that? It’s a flip of perspective. Do I want to be the woman God wants me to be, and am I willing to do the things necessary to follow Him? In the Bible, God tells us He has a plan, and even though our afflictions might feel really painful, they are momentary in light of eternity.
God has a purpose for everything and in everything, so basically, it comes down to, “What do I believe about the character of God? Do I believe He is sovereign? Do I believe He makes mistakes? Do I believe He’s powerful?” I have come to the conclusion that there is not one maverick cell in my body that God cannot and does not control. Therefore, if he has allowed me to experience this trial – and the Bible says we should not be surprised by trials – why not say, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me in this?”
In the midst of my suffering, I may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Unless I walk this path and I’m “chained” to the cancer clinic ... You know, the apostle Paul was chained to guards in prison. He had eight-hour shifts with the guards, and he got to preach to them! I love that. I’ve got a five-hour stint with somebody in the cancer clinic, so I think, “Let’s go see what God wants to do here.” If I have that “pair of glasses” on, I can see my difficulties so differently.
The girls in my Bible study like to tell me I’m brave. If this had been an issue with someone else in my family, I don’t know if I would have handled it with so much conquering courage. When I see my family or any of my “daughters in Jesus” hurting, that hurts me way more than getting chemo treatment.
My daughter, Missy, called me upset one day, saying, “I’m too young to lose my mom!” When we got off the phone, I said, “Ok, Lord, You love my kids more than I do, what do You have in mind for them?” Missy called me back and told me, “Mom, I had a good walk on the beach. And I said, ‘Lord, You love mom more than I do, and I know you’ll take care of her and you’ll take care of us. It’s okay, I want what You want.”
That’s what I used to teach my girls growing up: the definition of contentment is to be able to say, “Lord, I want what You want.” God takes care of the future. He takes care of me, and he’s going to take care of my family.
The promise of eternal life has made it possible to endure and even relish the possibility of earthly life coming to an end. The gifts of suffering and confusion and loss that God has given our family over these many years have conformed us to the people God is pleased to use. When our joy has been on trial, life has become a sweeter place for Jesus to meet us. His presence is most precious every day He grants us life on earth.
One more day to display God’s glory in our weakness.
One day closer to seeing Jesus face to face.
This article was originally published in Becoming Magazine.
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